I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Lakewood, NJ: Where Public Schools Are Left To Whither, Part IV

In the decade I've been writing this blog, I've seen some really horrible behavior towards teachers (a prime example here). But I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this:

This is from last September, when the Lakewood Education Association (LEA), the local teachers union, was, like all other local unions in the state, advocating for the health and safety of its members while districts made opening plans. 

Maybe you sympathize with the teachers; maybe you don't. But the truly obnoxious behavior of Michael Inzelbuch, the district's attorney, is remarkable. Inzelbuch wound up apologizing, as he should have, although as far as apologies go this one is awfully weak:

We'll talk later about how Lakewood's school district has responded to the pandemic. For now, let me restate that I believe at least three things will happen when public schools are left to wither, as they have been in Lakewood:
  1. When a large part of a community abandons its public schools, chaos ensues and accountability dissolves.
  2. Segregation is the inevitable consequence of school privatization.
  3. Educators will be disrespected in a community that does not support its public schools. 
#3 is precisely what's happening in Lakewood: a climate of disrespect for teachers working in public schools -- teachers who are educating only a small fraction of the community's children.

Again: Lakewood has highly segregated schools. The majority of residents send their children to private religious schools, mostly yeshivahs. 

The Hispanic minority in the community, however, sends their children to the public schools.

When your child attends a public school, and you actually see what teachers do for students, you're far more likely to appreciate their work and value it. But when the majority of a town's residents don't attend public school, they miss out on that perspective. It's not that they necessarily have disdain for public school teachers so much as they don't have a personal connection; they can't see the value of teachers through the eyes of someone whose own children were affected by them. Teachers might teach other people's kids, but they don't teach their own.

That manifests itself through things like Inzelbuch's embarrassing behavior. But it also may manifest itself in how well teachers are paid. Let's unpack this a bit:

When the majority of a town's children attend the public schools, there are at least two big reasons why residents will care about the quality of those schools. First, they care about the education their own children receive. They'll want good teachers, good facilities, and good administrators, and they'll be willing to pay for them, at least up to a point.

Second, the value of their homes will depend on the quality of the schools. The perceived quality of schools is a major driver of property values, so homeowners have an incentive to make sure that perceived quality remains high. To be sure, there are many negative consequences to this reality, especially because education is a "positional good," but there's little doubt concern about property values is a driver of concern about school quality.

In Lakewood, however, both of these drivers are switched off. The majority of parents in the town don't have a personal stake in the public schools; consequently, home buyers won't pay more for property in Lakewood if the quality of the public schools improve. I'm sure people in Lakewood who have opted out of the public schools don't want them to be "bad," but they have little personal incentive to make sure the those schools are "good" either.

A community like Lakewood, therefore, isn't going to have the same incentive to recruit and retain teachers for its public schools. And teacher salaries will reflect that lack of incentive.

This is a salary model I've used before. Basically, I take every full-time teacher in the state and predict their salary based on things like experience, labor market, job category, and so on. I then compare what the model says they should make to what they actually make; in this way, I can compare Lakewood teachers' salaries "apples-to-apples" with teacher salaries in the rest of the state.

Consistently, year after year, Lakewood teachers make less than what the average teacher makes in New Jersey, holding other factors constant. This is consistent with recent testimony in a trial about Lakewood school funding, which found Lakewood salaries were the lowest in the state compared to similar districts.

I'll write more about this trial in a bit. For now, let me conclude with this: in both their interactions with district officials and in their pay, Lakewood's public school educators are being disrespected. But this is an inevitable consequence of what happens when a community largely abandons its public schools.

More to come.

ADDING: A recent and telling story from this past March:

Most recently, eight Clarke teachers and staff were infected with the virus, including four who were hospitalized, according to Kimberlee Shaw, president of the Lakewood Education Association (LEA), which represents nearly 900 employees. 

But instead of closing the school and switching to all-virtual classes, the district chose to suspend Assistant Principal Madaly Rodriguez-Jones and moved an administrator from another school to temporarily take her place. 

“They should have closed it for two weeks and given everyone the 14-day quarantine,” said Shaw. “They claimed they did put in purifiers, but that was after.”

The Rodriguez-Jones paid suspension, originally set to end March 30, was extended this week to April 30, according to Shaw and the board agenda. District officials did not respond to requests for comment or explain why the move was made. 


“I don’t know what the district thinks they know, but this is an ever-changing situation and I felt like my staff members were being blamed for getting COVID,” Shaw said. “And they felt that way, they were upset that it was looking like the district was blaming the teachers.

But the Clarke situation is just the latest concern for teachers in the 6,000-student district, which is among the few that have remained open for all students since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. 

Shaw said that has resulted in 371 positive tests, 214 students and 157 staff, since July 2020, but no school closings or even partial shutdowns.

“It is taking its toll, our staff is tired, they are covering classes because they are short of staff, they are worried about the virus,” Shaw said. “Right now staff is doing their job and trying to stay safe and we are hoping that if another outbreak occurs that the district will reconsider and shut that building, it worries the staff, they feel they are not being notified.” [emphasis mine]

I ask you: does this sound like a district where teachers feel respected? 

ADDING MORE: This should come as no surprise:

LAKEWOOD - More than 30 school district teachers are being let go at the end of the school year without clear explanation or cause, according to teachers’ union leaders who say the move is occurring at a time when the district faces a teaching shortage.

“We had staffing shortages before the pandemic and the pandemic only exacerbated it,” said Lakewood Education Association President Kimberlee Shaw, whose local represents more than 700 teachers and staff in the 6,700-student district. 


“It’s chaos for our students,” added Shaw. “They crave routine and stability. They never know who their teachers are going to be from one month to the next. It’s stressful for all of us and makes me worry about our students’ safety and continuity of instruction.”

In a release, the LEA stated that more than 100 staff members had left the district since June 30, 2020. “The district has a history of firing non-tenured teachers without cause,” the union release added. “Most of these teachers and staff members report being ‘blindsided’ by their non-renewals since they had positive evaluations and no history of disciplinary issues.”

“Meanwhile, they’ve had little to no support from the district through mentoring or professional development. The district also lost nearly its entire guidance department and Child Study Team at the high school at a time when student mental health is at crisis level and the district is implementing a new Social-Emotional Learning initiative.”

1 comment:

Giuseppe said...

This Op Ed is from nj.com, 9-23-19: Imagine taking home close to three quarters of a million dollars a year in a district that is essentially bankrupt: It’s just another day for Lakewood’s school board attorney, Michael Inzelbuch. [snip] This district of economically disadvantaged, mostly Latino public school kids faces a chronic deficit, due to the huge costs of busing a ballooning Orthodox Jewish population to private schools, among other deep structural problems. Their parents just gathered in Trenton to protest.
Yet last year, as the district came clamoring for a $28 million bailout loan from the state, Inzelbuch bumped his annual compensation to nearly $715,000, and took home another $102,000 in July alone, the Press reported. The man is among the highest paid school contractors in New Jersey, if not the highest. He makes more than the governor does. So here’s our motion: If Lakewood wants any more money from the state, scrap his contract first. End quote

From other articles I read, Michael Inzelbuch is an especially nasty and aggressive piece of work who even treats the superintendent and school board as so much trash.